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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Sao Paulo

Who will be next for Demian Maia and Colby Covington?

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Sao Paulo-Maia vs Covington Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Colby Covington defeated Demian Maia, insulted the hosting Brazilians, and took dead-aim verbally at welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. a former training partner, this past week.

In a business where the willingness to violate what most are taught when first competing in sports, things like heavily denigrating your opponent publicly, can be a tie-breaker in decisions on who gets big fights. Covington was working hard in trying to break out of the pack and jump the welterweight line.

But with the win over Maia, he doesn't have much to jump, as the win moved him into Maia's old spot as the third-ranked contender in the division.

His insults of Brazilians, calling them filthy animals, and then later doing a mock apology to actual filthy animals, followed the type of a scene that we haven't seen in a major MMA event in years. There was genuine danger when Covington and his entourage ran out of the cage to the back in Sao Paulo, Brazil, trying to dodge anything that wasn't nailed down that was being thrown at them by spectators. Probably the last time such a scene took place was when the Diaz Brothers were flipping off the crowd in Hawaii after a confrontation with K.J. Noons and his father a decade ago.

The sad part of this is that it works. Even though UFC officials were clearly unhappy with what happened this week, Covington, who quietly amassed a 13-1 record, was the most talked-about fighter coming out of the show.

For all the knocks on it, his insults of Brazilians were similar to that of Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor, who became big drawing cards with their mouths. The source may have been pro wrestling, since Covington was coming off a stint with Impact Wrestling as a heel in their American Top Team-based storyline. The storyline involved Bobby Lashley, the dual pro wrestler and Bellator fighter. In storyline, Lashley, who actually hasn't fought in a while, was debating leaving pro wrestling to go full-time into MMA at the prodding of Dan Lambert, the head of ATT, who became a regular character in the storylines.

Covington, Thiago Alves, King Mo Lawal and coach Marcus "Conan" Silveira have been part of the entourage for Lashley and Lambert. Covington on different occasions attacked opponents of Lashley and even choked out a referee who counted a pin fall on Lashley.

With the win, Covington moved up behind former champion Robbie Lawler and Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.

In the welterweight division, there are two key fights coming up. On Saturday in Madison Square Garden, Thompson (12-3-1) faces Jorge Masvidal (32-13). The other is Dec. 16, the main event of the FOX show from Winnipeg, where former champion Robbie Lawler (28-11) faces former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos (27-9).

The winner of either of those fights would have a strong claim to the next title shot at Woodley. Woodley has fought Thompson twice, an exciting draw and a deathly dull close decision win. He also finished Lawler in the first round. If Thompson beats Masvidal, it would make it almost a lock that the Lawler vs. dos Anjos winner would get the next shot. But a continued verbal assault from Covington, claiming to have caused Woodley to quit in practice, puts him in consideration for a fight that he'd be at least a win away from getting otherwise. And for Woodley, perhaps Covington's building up the fight would make it a bigger fight for him than facing dos Anjos, although probably not a bigger fight than Lawler.

Woodley has said this type of talking resulting in a title shot makes the sport a joke, and indicated not wanting to reward it. On paper, Woodley vs. Covington would seem to favor Woodley. While Covington had good enough wrestling to keep Maia standing, and enough striking to beat him there, that same style would seem to strongly favor Woodley, who should be able to keep the fight standing, and is a much harder puncher.

But even if you throw out any consideration of Covington's trying to talk his way into a title shot he probably doesn't deserve yet, he's at most a win or two away from being worthy of a title shot even if he never said a thing.

Let's look at how fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday's show.

DEREK BRUNSON - Brunson (18-5), who beat Lyoto Machida (22-8) in the first round of the main event, was the most impressive winner of the night.

Brunson didn't target champion Michael Bisping as much as former champion Luke Rockhold (16-3) as a possible next opponent.

The fight makes sense for Brunson. Right now, the winner of Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre will likely face interim champion Robert Whittaker (19-4) next. Rockhold, with his stoppage of David Branch, would figure to be the next contender. A Brunson win over Rockhold should earn him the next title shot. The question becomes if Rockhold decides to sit it out until after Whittaker gets his shot. If Rockhold doesn't want to risk his shot, Brunson should face either Chris Weidman (14-3) or Jacare Souza (24-5) next. Brunson lost in just 41 seconds to Souza, but that was more than five years ago.

LYOTO MACHIDA - On paper, there are a lot of signs that aren't positive for the former middleweight champion. He's 39 years old and has lost four of his last five fights, including three in a row, all stoppages.

You look at those numbers and the usual conclusion would be that time may have past him by. There are also clear questions about his chin, and it has to be considered whether it serves him any purpose to continue fighting.

If Machida looks to continue fighting, Branch (21-4) looks to be a good opponent. Win or lose this coming Saturday, Johny Hendricks (18-7) would at least make for a battle of former champions.

COLBY COVINGTON - If we go with the idea Covington vs. Woodley isn't happening next, Covington would make sense against the winner of Thompson vs. Masvidal or Lawler vs. dos Anjos. One of those winners should get the shot at Woodley. It makes all the sense for Covington to slide in and face the other winner. If not, just because it could be built into a major television fight, Covington could also face Donald Cerrone (32-10).

DEMIAN MAIA - At 39, the loss to Covington coupled with a loss to Woodley puts Maia in a tough spot. He could face Cerrone in the sense it's two fighters with names who have been around a while battling to turn around their career. You'd want to keep him away from guys with title aspirations, since Maia is probably not getting a shot but is dangerous enough on the ground that he could knock off people, like Darren Till, who could be groomed for a shot.

JOHN LINEKER - Lineker (30-8) defeated Marlon Vera (10-4-1) on Saturday via decision to rebound from his loss to T.J. Dillashaw. He should next face the winner of one of two fights that takes place on the Nov. 11 show in Norfolk, with Raphael Assuncao (25-5) vs. Matthew Lopez (10-1) or the winner of John Dodson (19-8) vs. Marlon Moraes (18-5-1). Lineker has beaten Dodson via split decision win last year, but the others would all be new match-ups.

Lineker, after Saturday's fight, was also talking about being on stand-by in case either Dominick Cruz or Jimmie Rivera pulls out of their Dec. 30 fight in Las Vegas.

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